Categories: Snow leopard

Why Do Snow Leopards Bite Their Tails?

Snow leopards do not bite their tails to keep their nose warm as has been stated. Neither do they bite their tails in an aggressively harmful way. They bite (nibble) their tails or hold their tails in their mouths because they enjoy doing it as a distracting diversion, or as an act within play.

All the photographs that I have seen of snow leopards biting their tails have been taken in captivity. One of the photographs shows an adult snow leopard biting his tail clearly in play. Another photograph shows a snow leopard cub biting the tail of a parent. This will also be in play.

Cub biting tail of parent

The snow leopard is perhaps the tamest and most gentle of all the wild cat species in captivity. This handsome wild cat behaves somewhat like a domestic cat in captivity.

Quite often in homes, we see domestic cats playing with their tails. The cat’s tail is rather like a cat tease. A cat tease is a feather on a stick which excites a cat. Cats can create their own entertainment with their own tails and the tails of other cats.

I suspect that the adult snow leopard gently holds his tail in his mouth as a vestigial1 act of play and one which is pleasing to the cat.

Humans do many things like this which serve no apparent purpose other than they are pleasant and distracting. We may see snow leopards do this more in captivity because of stress levels. Snow leopards may find the activity reduces stress in much the same way that cats groom themselves because it feels pleasant and in feeling pleasant stress is reduced.

There is nothing in the best books that I have on the wild cats about snow leopards biting their tails. On the internet, there are articles on snow leopards “nomming” their tails. The word “nomming” describes the sound made while chewing on something. The fact is that I do not believe that snow levels chew on their tails. They simply place their tail in their mouth and nibble it perhaps as part of play, as stated.

There may even be a throwback to kittenhood going on: suckling at mother’s nipple. If so this is once again a reassuring pastime.

Note 1: vestigial: a very small remnant of something that was once greater or more noticeable.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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  • Michael

    do you know if these snow leopard individual displaying this tail biting were hand reared?


    • Sorry Ingo, I don't know the answer to that question. If you have a theory on why snow leopards do this, please spell it out in a comment and I may turn it into an article. Thanks for commenting.

      Are you hinting that these cats were weaned early and this is a sign?

  • It is a bit odd, though, that seemingly only snow leopards do this. I've looked through hundreds of pictures of various types of leopards and I've only seen the Snow Leopard do this and - you're right - only in captivity.

    Though it may be worth noting that Snow Leopards have the bushiest of the leopard tails, that I've seen.

    Very interesting article, thanks!

  • I believe you're right again, Michael. Isn't their tail one of the longest too? That would make it more accessible; and their fur is dense, so yeah, perfect cat toy.

    • Yes, it is EVA. I simply had to decide myself what the reason is. There are no books on this. I may be incorrect.

      I am annoyed because these days I often use Dragon Dictate (dictation software) to write the articles and the title contained a typo which I was blind to. It is now corrected. I have to wait a couple hours and then re-read it to spot these typos.

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